How can I sharpen my mind?
July 30, 2008 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I've been feeling slow lately. How can I sharpen my mental powers?

I've been feeling mentally sluggish over the past month or so. I'm having a bit more trouble locating the right words when I speak, and I'm getting tongue-tied more than usual. My general problem solving abilities also seem to have taken a hit. Nothing too serious though -- just the consequence of staying in an understimulating job a bit too long, I suspect. (I'm in my mid-20's, I'm healthy, and I'm not taking anything.)

Does anyone have any suggestions for proven ways to "sharpen up" one's intellectual faculties? Not looking for anything gimmicky or quick fix-ish. Some sort of project or daily activity I can do for the next couple weeks would be great. And please, no suggestions to change my circumstances -- I'm already doing that in the very near future. Thanks.
posted by decoherence to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
friends who have committed to the "raw food" thing have reported increased mental faculties.
posted by yort at 3:37 PM on July 30, 2008

Puzzles. Lots of them and lots of different kinds. I would suggest crosswords, listing memorization puzzles, sudoku, geography quizzes, or trivia. Just spend 15 minutes a day doing brain teasers will do wonders for your recall. If you have a commute on public transport buy one of those $3.50 value puzzle books; they can be found on any magazine stand. Get one with lots of different puzzles. If you find one puzzle too easy just move on to the next one.
posted by Alison at 3:45 PM on July 30, 2008

'Brain training' exercises seem to be quite popular these days, but they've definitely had the 'sharpen up' effect on me.

I use Cognitive Fun, mostly because it's free.
posted by Adam_S at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2008

try using to speed read articles. Slowly up the reading speed and your brain will get a great workout!
posted by prk14 at 4:07 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

More sleep. More caffeine. More exercise.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:07 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Find books with some depth and read them. Take notes about what you're reading, even if it's unrelated thoughts or cool new words. Just greasing the mental crankworks can make a big difference.
posted by Nelsormensch at 4:08 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rigorous (aerobic) exercise, several times a week.
posted by availablelight at 4:25 PM on July 30, 2008

Nikoli is a fabulous puzzle site by the company that popularized Sudoku.
posted by jockc at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2008

Somehow my link is not working correctly; it's
posted by jockc at 4:37 PM on July 30, 2008

Play scramble (boggle equivalent) on facebook
posted by rmless at 4:46 PM on July 30, 2008

Find a good high school math book and dig in. Do the exercises.
posted by storybored at 5:56 PM on July 30, 2008

Play a sport that requires a team. I found pickup basketball to be my thing. It's good exercise, it gives you a chance to practice speaking skills (in between games/trash talk) and there's some low-level problem solving.

If you have time, you should find out if there is a tutoring program you can volunteer for. Something like teaching kids math and science or something. That will require some problem solving and communicating.
posted by abdulf at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2008

Use any of the great free flashcard programs - Anki is cross-platform - and quiz yourself on something you'd like to learn. There are some flashcard sets you can download, or you can import text files of questions and answers, or you can easily create your own cards within the program. I'm working my way through a biology textbook I picked up for a buck at a library sale; you could use flashcards for all kinds of things:

* a foreign language
* word roots to build your English vocabulary
* history - names and dates
* music recognition (Anki plays some kinds of sound files)
* art history (Anki lets you add images)

You can bring it into other parts of your day, too - when I'm out for a long walk, sometimes I'll just run through the facts I've learned from my latest biology chapter.

Also: memorize poetry or bits of Shakespeare. This is a great activity for public transit. Print out a few poems you like and learn them, two or four lines at a time. When you get four lines, learn the next four. When you can do all eight, learn four more. Before long, you'll have a good half hour of poetry you can recite on demand!
posted by kristi at 6:51 PM on July 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

Do math and read poetry. For both, the more obtuse, the better.
posted by MadamM at 11:09 PM on July 30, 2008

Exercise and healthy food. Guaranteed.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:10 AM on July 31, 2008

Exercise, good sleep, taurine.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:19 AM on July 31, 2008

Coffee is a proven quick method. But there are plenty of other things.
posted by JJ86 at 6:06 AM on July 31, 2008


Seriously, limit yourself to 3 hours a day. Write down all the stuff you want to look up before-hand. That way you won't end up frittering away your time finding out who won best actress in 1944 or if your second-favorite LP from childhood is for sale on eBay. Allow yourself to check your email no more than 5 times a day.

When you can't remember something, DON'T google it. Try to actually remember it. It will be frustrating. But you have to do it, otherwise you'll lose your short-term memory.

Less time on the internets = more brain power. I absolutely guarantee 100% you that once you start to limit your internet time, your brain will start working again. It worked for me.

With your newfound time...

Read! Nelsormensch speaks the truth. Don't skim. Commit yourself to reading articles and books in their entirety...even when they start to get boring (oftentimes it's just your weakened brain trying to trick you that it's boring). My lapsed brain power was in part a product of my weakened attention span. Thanks, tabbed browsing. :(

Memorize poetry. Surprised by Joy, To an Athlete Dying Young, Richard Corey, Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening, I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died ...all are good places to start.

Learn a new word every day: grimalkin, sclerotic, casuistry, claque, sententious. Subscribe to's word of the day. Test yourself at the end of each week.

Interact with people! Talk to people as much as possible. Ask them about themselves. Listen. Think about what they say.

Listen to NPR. <3>
Keep a journal.

Most important: Have quiet time for yourself. It's hard to do in our culture. No music, no tv, no radio.
posted by MaddyRex at 10:15 AM on July 31, 2008 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I actually do think limiting Internet use might be the key. I realized that, because my job is so dull, I spend most of my day at work surfing the web; then, I go home and get right back to surfing. The web is very insidious that way. It gives you the illusion of learning something, meting out regular doses of "interestingness" and novelty, without actually requiring you to do the real work that truly constitutes learning. It might be even more dangerous than TV; at least if you watch 8+ hours of TV per day, there's little risk of fooling yourself into thinking your time has actually been well-spent.

I also really like the idea to start memorizing passages of poetry. Rote memorization, that much maligned bygone part of schooling, might actually be the best antidote to Internet-related brain-rot.
posted by decoherence at 11:28 AM on July 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

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